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Darien group trying to ban plastic bags

Published 4:25 pm, Thursday, March 3, 2011
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In an effort to clean up the local environment, Darien residents are getting behind an initiative to ban plastic bags.

Nina Miller, one of five residents who founded Choose to Reuse in Darien, said Darien is following Westport's lead. The town was successful in passing an ordinance that banned plastic bags more than two years ago.

"We decided that we should start with an educational platform," Miller said. "Westport supported our efforts, but they knew the only way to really enforce the ban is to get an ordinance."

Miller said the proposal for a plastic bag ban was discussed with RTM members and Democratic Selectman Callie Sullivan, who was very much in support of the idea.

After meeting with local businesses in Darien, Miller said the majority of businesses were in favor of banning plastic bags.

"We split up the town and went door-to-door to merchants," Miller said. "Some of them said they already stopped using plastic bags and others were glad to see us trying to move the initiative forward."

Miller said the only businesses who expressed concerns with the ban were some of the family owned shops.

"Some of the locally owned stores were a little more hesitant because they are already struggling with greater competition and they don't want to put another restriction on their customers, which is totally understandable," Miller said.

As for residents, Miller said people have approached her and said they would like to see the ban be implemented.

Even if plastic bags are banned, Miller said there shouldn't be any additional costs for businesses to absorb. However, from talking with businesses in Westport, some residents, mostly the elderly, said they missed having bags with handles.

Miller hopes banning plastic bags could also improve the environment.

"I grew up in town and I've seen the habitat disappearing and it's disappointing and sad," Miller said. "I want to do something about it."

Stop & Shop in Westport saw an increase in their sales of reusable bags and a noticeable decrease in the number of paper bags being used after the ban was passed, Miller said.

"If you think about the environment, what a massive improvement it will be to not have these bags blowing around," Miller said.

Westport RTM District 4 member Jonathan Cunitz said the decision to draft an ordinance banning check-out plastic bags came after a resident approached the RTM.

"We spent some time doing the research and decided it was the type of thing we wanted to do," Cunitz said. "Westport's ordinance is far more reaching than any other ordinance in the country."

As Cunitz and other District 4 RTM members worked on drafting the ordinance, they met with businesses to discuss any potential problems. Cunitz said the original draft of the ordinance was modified to include an exemption for produce bags and laundry bags.

"When we first started out we didn't include any language about penalties or fines," Cunitz said. "However, we found out that the ordinance would be more of a feel-good type of ordinance without any penalties."

The penalty for violating the ban is a $150 fine for the first offense and an additional $150 for each day after four days of the initial citation that the violation is not fixed, according to the ordinance.

After the ordinance was passed in September 2009, there was a six-month grace period before the ordinance went into effect so the town could educate businesses about alternative methods to plastic, Cunitz said.

Cunitz said residents and businesses are still happy that a ban was put in place.

Sullivan said the town would benefit from a ban in several ways.

"There will be less plastic garbage on the ground and in our streams and rivers and storm drains. It will cost us less to clean those areas. We will be living our values as a community who wants to move away from oil based products and Darien will be seen as a leader in sensible environmental and civic practices," Sullivan said. "I think it is really the right thing to do, and am thrilled that a group of dedicated and super smart women have put their energies behind it."

Even if a ban were instituted in town, not all plastic bags would be included.

"Part of this initiative is that it excludes produce bags and laundry bags or bigger," Miller said. "The reasoning is that those types of bags aren't typically reused."

In an effort to bring more attention to the initiative, an exhibit featuring art made from plastic bags will be held on March 13 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Darien Nature Center. A showing of the documentary BAG IT! will be shown on March 6 at 5:30 at the Darien Library. For more information about the initiative, go to www.choosetoreuseindarien.org.